Who will I lose?

When it comes to the end of this whole human experience, the end of the world and the universe, where all come to meet their Creator, I cannot help but feel a tinge of fear. OK, maybe a lot of fear. Let me explain:

Ever since I was young, I was thankful that I and my family were among the ones who would be saved from being thrown in the great divine trash heap to which most of humankind was doomed. I would look around at the mass of humanity being carried along by the floods of sin and evil without anyone to pull them out. To be sure, some people might be pulled out. In my mind, my family, friends, and I had been pulled out and were also given the task of pulling everyone else out. But, there are some people you just can’t reach.

So, there we were in the great Ark of Christianity, drifting along the floods of humanity; thankful that we were aboard, but silently mourning the loss of millions of others. Fake comfort was offered to us to alleviate the realization that “this is just how it is.”  We were told either (1) that God logically cannot save everyone since most of humankind was out of reach or refused help, or (2) that God had chosen us above all others and purposely left the rest to drown.

It took years to ponder the implications of each idea. Later on, I could not get past the feeling that God was either, according to (1), impotent against the human will and the gates of hell prevailed over most of humanity, or, according to (2), God did not want to save everyone, making Him quite the divine monster. Must I be told to love my neighbor, feel compassion for him, know him personally, and ache for his salvation until such time as he can no longer be considered my neighbor? Can God throw out his own image into the trash heap?

Yet, I believed that’s exactly what he was going to do. My neighbor, whom I must love as myself, would be ripped from me. And, it would feel like I was being ripped apart. If I loved him, really loved him, that’s what it would feel like. The gates of Hell really were the victors in the end. The gates would steal my neighbors, maybe my future family members, maybe even my own son or daughter.  How can I live with that? How can God, who is said to love everyone even more than I love them, live with that? If God is love, He too will be ripped apart. But, if he already chose some for the trash heap, he is indifferent, uncaring, and places quite the unreasonable burden of future grief on all his followers. They must love all people, but prepare to lose all people. For God did not really love them in the first place. At least, He did not love them enough to save them. How can I truly love my neighbor as myself under these conditions? Will my neighbor, just as valuable and worthy of love as myself, no longer be my neighbor? God forbid! To lose my neighbor is to lose my very own son. That’s the strongest I can put it. To lose even myself to the trash heap of Hell is nothing compared to losing my own son there. I cannot love such a God who would throw him away, be God grieved or indifferent.

God forbid that I should love more than He does. Can God be outdone in love? “No!” my heart cries, “He loves more than I.” I cannot have been educated in love from my earliest memory by my mother and father, by my brother and sister, by all who have ever come before me: whose written words of love have instructed me, and gotten love so wrong. I know not what else to say except that if God is Love, as the Scriptures and all who have taught me say, then His hands are good hands to fall into. In death we all go to Him who is Love. And who shall be able to separate us from the love of God? No one. Not even ourselves.

Still, I do not know this for sure. It is only the logic of Love, which spurns all other logic. It is only the hope that all this will not end in the most horrifying way possible; that not even one will be thrown away – that God will not let one of His lost sheep slip through his hands. They look like big strong hands, don’t they?

Henry and Charity 6

Henry: Good morning.

Charity: Morning, Henry. How have you been?

Henry: I’ve been fine. Do you want some coffee?

Charity: Sure. That’s enough.

Henry: Creamer?

Charity: Please.

Henry: Hmmm… the first sip of coffee is always the best.

Charity: Ya, it sort of gets you in the mood for the day.

Henry: I haven’t seen you in a while. Have you been visiting family?

Charity: Ya, just for a few days.

Henry: Well, I’ve given your questions a lot of thought. The only thing is, I’m not sure I’m any closer to answering them.

Charity: I do appreciate you listening, though. Some people won’t even allow questions. They would rather have faith, and not put any work toward understanding their own faith.

George: Good morning, everyone.

Henry, Charity: Morning, George.

Henry: There’s coffee left in the pot.

George: Good. That’s the most useful thing they put in this break room.

Charity: Ya, I don’t think anyone uses the stove.

George: Would you mind if I sit down and join you two for a minute?

Henry: Sure.

George: You may not know this, but I’ve been listening to you two off and on for a while.

Henry: Oh, really?

George: Yes. And I can see why you went up to this young lady in the first place. She is very beautiful.

Henry: …

George: You don’t have to say anything. I’m an old man and I have the luxury of speaking my mind every now and then. I don’t mean to embarrass you. I was just wondering if you might let me add something to your conversation.

Charity: Of course, we welcome anything you have to say. You’re one of the nicer employees around here.

George: Thank you. …I notice that both of you have knowledge of the scriptures and can recall specific verses at a moment’s notice. That’s commendable in itself. Some people would be envious of such a skill. But, I wonder if I might pick just one verse, Revelation 2:17, keeping the context in mind of course, and dig a little deeper than normal. I think it will add significantly to your conversation.

Henry: What does the verse say?

George: “To him that overcomes, I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he who receives it.”

Henry: I don’t understand how that fits into a conversation on Heaven and Hell.

Charity: Could you explain what it means?

George: Well, as you know, the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy about the end of things. In other words, it’s about the whole point of it all, the goal we are all aiming at. And God, in verse 17, is speaking to all the churches. — So, I got to thinking about this white stone with the new name on it and what it’s a symbol of, if anything. The fact that it is a stone and white may strike some as arbitrary and take different meanings to some, but I think the one who wrote it sees in the whiteness purity, and in its substance indestructibility. But, no matter – what I’m interested in is what is meant by the new name. And this brought to my mind the whole notion of names in general. Why do we give each other names and ask what each other’s names are? What is meant by the idea of a name? Is there a perfect notion of a name? Once a man reveals his name, all we possess of him that makes up what we know is a label by which to call him and whatever scrap of external history we are privileged to know: whether he came from upstate New York or whether he started working here a year ago; whether his mother has a three children or whether he hunts on his time off work. Are we any closer, though, to really knowing him? I think not. In fact, we may know more of the man if he has received some other name which he will never hear, but that his co-workers give to him. For instance, they might call him dependable, trustworthy, lazy, or a screw-up. Instantly, we know something of his character and therefore a little bit more about the inner man.  – But what does it mean for God himself to give you a name? It must be a communication about what God thinks about the man to the man. It is his soul’s picture in a word. It must be what he had in mind when he first formed him in his mother’s womb. No one else but God sees what the man is or will be and could express it in a name. Of course, while on earth we could never know what we will become. But, when, I ask, is he given the name?

Henry: When he has overcome.

George: Ah, yes. But, why does God wait? He knew his name from the beginning.

Charity:  Maybe if the man knew it too soon, he would not understand it.

George: Precisely. Henry, you picked a smart conversation partner. It is only when the man has become the name, when he overcomes, that God gives him the stone with the new name on it. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion that determines the name which God knew in the beginning. But such a name could not be given until the man is the name. But, let’s look a little deeper at this.

Henry: I thought that was deep. How can we go deeper?

George: Well, if we look deeper we will find every man’s individual and unique relation to God. And this is intensified by the fact that “no man knows the name except the one who receives it.” Every man is not just in a relationship with God, but a particular relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being. And the man can understand and worship God as no man else can worship him.

Charity: It sounds wonderful, but won’t that be a temptation for pride knowing that only you can understand and worship God is this manner?

George: That would be a problem to him who had not overcome. God give me grace that I would humble myself before my brother; that I divide us not with foolish pride, but look up to my brother for what knowledge and worship of God that he and he only can give. Each man stands before God, and lifts up a different humanity to the God who is all in all. And inside every man is an inner chamber that only God can enter, a chamber into which no brother or sister can come.

Henry: That’s quite an insight.

George: And further still, it follows that there is a chamber also, a chamber in God himself, into which no man can enter but the one made for it, made from the beginning. Out of this chamber he must bring knowledge and strength for his brethren. Each can reveal to each the secret things of the Father — Each man discovering the riches of the knowledge of God and of his grace, each teaching his brethren how better to know the one who made them. God has become all in all.

Charity: It’s a beautiful vision of things to come, but how does that pertain to our question of whether all people eventually go to heaven?

George. Well, Charity – you too Henry – Let me ask you this. What would happen if even one man, one individual unique in his relation to God, were somehow lost and separated from God and the rest of humanity forever; or if he was somehow removed from existence so that he would exist no more?

Henry: There would be a serious deficiency in our ability to know and worship God.

George: Yes. For we would be missing what he and he alone would provide for every other man, his own peculiar relation to God and the revelation and strength he would bring from it. Each one of us is precious not just to God but to each other. And this is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself, Mathew 22:34-40. For to love God is to love your brother; and to love your brother is to love God. One cannot be done without the other.

Charity: You’ve given us a lot to think about. That’s for sure. I think this is the kind of thing that needs to settle in the brain for a while before one can fully comprehend it.

Henry: Yes. I agree. And as it so happens, our break time is over.

To Be Continued…

Henry and Charity 4

Henry: But, God has come after you, through me. He did not leave you in the wilderness. He has sent me to call after you.

Charity: I don’t know if I can answer that call. I have not yet worked out if God is good or not, at least, the God you talk about.

Henry: What do you mean? Of course, he is good.

Charity: He may be good enough to save me, but is he good enough to save my mom? She’s already dead. She died when I was a teenager after months of treatments, enduring the best the doctors could give her. I watched her fade away minute by minute in that hospital bed, and all I had to cling to was God’s love. I believed in him. I trusted that as she faded here, she came alive in God’s good hands. But, Henry, she did not hear this ‘good news’. Is God going to leave her behind? Was my trust in him vain? Is God good enough to save her?

Henry: She may still yet be with God. You don’t know what she came into contact with in her life. She may have heard the gospel.

Charity: Don’t presume to know more about my mom than I do! What sort of arrogance overtakes you that you can pronounce some vague hope on her life using such an uncertain word as ‘may’.  Either God is good or he is not. Either my mom is with him, and I was right to trust in his love, or she is lost forever.

Henry: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. You’re right, I don’t know your mom like you do. But, God is good. That doesn’t mean however, that everyone is saved. Your mom may yet be with him, but there will be some to whom God will say ‘leave me. I never knew you.’ Not everyone who calls him Lord will enter into his kingdom, Matthew 7:23.

Charity: Except those who do God’s will. I know the verse. I don’t know what that means anymore. It keeps coming back to ‘doing’ something but I don’t know what we’re supposed to be working towards. You say salvation is not work, but we keep bumping into these verses that contradict you.

Henry: It is frustrating. My verses keep backfiring. Hmmm… let’s leave working aside for a minute. It’s my earnest hope that your mom is in heaven. I wish everyone could be there but, it’s just not feasible. Given a world of free creatures, moral agents who make their own decisions without any coercion from God, some of them are going to choose wrong. God gives his highest priority to freedom, because without it, there is no love. You can’t make someone do something freely. God does not want heaven populated with human ‘robots’ who have no choice in their own destination. Those who freely choose to be with God truly love him. Without freedom, there is no love.

Charity: If God’s plan to save everyone is thwarted by human freedom, then God did not make a good world. And, by implication, God is not all good.

Henry: How do you mean?

Charity: I mean, in order for your God’s plan to be carried out, there has to be collateral damage. Some of us have to be damned for the rest of us to be saved. Yes, Jesus procured the means of salvation for all, but from the beginning he knew most of humanity would not choose to love him. But, he made the world anyway knowing they were destined for hell. You’re telling me, God couldn’t have made a better world? If that is true, then there was not enough goodness to create a truly good world, one in which no one was ever lost. – Think of it this way. Let’s say that only one human was sent to hell and the rest of us went to heaven. God could not create a world in which that man was saved. And let’s say he was the most vile of creatures. He killed millions of people, corrupted everything good around him, took his happiness in the torture of the innocent, and fulfilled every perverted desire in his heart. Everywhere he went he stank with the filth of sin. This man could not be saved and went to hell. But, the rest of humanity went to heaven. Given God’s limitations on what he could feasibly create, what else could we regard this perverse individual but as the one who took the fall so that we could be saved. It would be fitting and proper to toast him at every meal who took the wrath of God upon himself so that we might live forever. Someone had to be damned. God could do no better. The problem is billions of times worse when you consider that most of humanity throughout history has died without the accepting Christ into their heart. Poor them, they did not know the required set of beliefs or the proper name of God’s Son. As eternity begins, the ones in heaven should toast and poor libations to the ones who were damned instead of them. Them, who had nothing to do much with their salvation except emerge as the product of chance, a happenstance of geography, the luck of being born with a language that the Bible was translated in, the fortune of running into a person such as yourself, or the happy course of events that led to their birth into a Christian home. God simply could not order things so that all would be saved. Is this your God, only that good and no more?

To Be Continued…

A Blunder of Cosmic Proportions

“God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Universal salvation is God’s plan, his ultimate goal. The question is, does God’s plan ultimately end in failure. The loss of even one person is a failure for God. But, that is what you affirm — God’s ultimate failure — if you say, as I hear many Christians say, that most people in this world and even throughout history will end up in never ending conscious torture in hell. They will be separated from God forever. Christians site the verse, “straight is the gate and narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” Christians affirm not only God’s ultimate failure, but his utter failure in that he loses almost everybody. It is a colossal failure, a blunder of cosmic proportions.

The Reformed Tradition in Christianity is no better. They get around God’s failure by saying that universal salvation wasn’t his plan in the first place. Contrary to the verse cited above, God does not want all people to come to repentance. God determines who will be saved and who will not. And, most of humanity he damns for hell while a few of them he chooses to be with him. So, in the end, God does not fail. He just means to avoid the cosmic blunder by saying that he meant to do that in the first place.

So, we have two choices. Either God bows down to the idol of free will and utterly fails, or there is no free will and God planned from the beginning to damn most of humanity to hell.  Both views of God are awful. Neither one is appealing.